Air combat going beyond visual range
A future fighter aircraft is likely to need more range and payload than speed and agility as countries like Russia, China and Iran invest in long-range air defenses that can keep high-value support assets including aerial refueling tankers up to 1,000 nautical miles away from their military installations, but stealth remains critical despite advances in radar technology, according to a new Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments study.
Advances in beyond-visual-range weapons make it increasingly unnecessary to have highly maneuverable fighter jets like the F-22 Raptor, and first-strike aircraft are unlikely to have support of large, unstealthy bombers, tankers, and airborne surveillance and early warning aircraft, according to John Stillion, an air power analyst with CSBA.
Those are just some of the findings presented in Stillion’s new report on trends in air-to-air combat — unveiled at an Air Force Association event in Washington April 14.
The report comes as Air Combat Command explores its requirements for a sixth-generation air dominance platform to come after the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter and F-22. Senior service officials have emphasized that the future platform might not be another fighter jet, and that it could be manned or unmanned.
According to Stillion’s assessment, next-generation aircraft would benefit greatly from having a larger combat radius than current fighter designs, and an increased loadout of long-range, air-to-air weapons.
“The aerial combat lethality of large combat aircraft may be competitive or even superior to more traditional fighter aircraft designs emphasizing speed and maneuverability,” Stillion’s report states.